Imagine ancient China as it was, say, in the closing years of the Song dynasty. Imagine its great cities, its vibrant science, philosophy, and culture; its scholars, traders, nobles, lovers, adventurers… Take China’s love of harmony and nature, its strong civic and philosophical ethic, its humour and love of learning, and give it all a strong matrifocal twist.
Next imagine ancient Korea, with its city states and scheming petty nobility, its female shamans in eternal dispute with scholar-officials and priests, its love of ritual and debate, its fiery food and striking ways of dress, its modesty and delicate sense of decorum. Take its people’s fierce sense of independence and enterprise, their uncompromising family ethic and relentless pragmatism.
Now Korea was a tiny and relatively insignificant kingdom when compared to the vast population of China. But for our new world, imagine a joint Empire where the relative strength of the two cultures is reversed: a predominantly Korean civilisation with Chinese elements. These are the Ban’ka’ttar or Ban, peoples of the original Ontolosnan empire, which in the third progress of the first epoch advanced from its ancestral river valleys in Ponpyungttang to win control of the entire nearwing coast of the world. Led by their warrior queens, the Ban cultivated rice and barley, they built the first altar-cities, they shaped gods in their own image, they created writing and government and religion and war. They were, and are, a mighty people.
The Ban sought an ideal society based on a harmony between the individual, nature, and society. Their mundang shamans were the first to bind the Kut (‘deities’), to raise them to consciousness and to give them voice. Gaining political power, the mundang princesses consciously shaped existing myth and ritual to further their goals, creating an enduring close link between religious, economic and military activity.
Over relentless generations, Ban explorers forged a trail across the towering spine of the world, the sacred, deadly, eternally snow-capped mountain range called the Shanaranyas. To farwing of the peaks they found untamed but fertile lands, and in the space of a further generation had colonised and settled to the shores of Shon Bata, the Calm Abiding Blue, a vast inland sea.
The dominant peoples of that farwing land were the Tlöna. They were a vibrant people, equal by any measure to their conquering masters. The Tlöna absorbed the fruits of Ban civilisation and combined it with their own rich heritage. In the slow course of generations they outgrew their servitude, becoming equals, then rivals, and finally enemies of the Ban.
So imagine Northern India in all its vibrant polyglot energy, insatiable and ever-curious. Consider its labyrinthine caste system, its pandits and priests, secretive tantrikas, marketplace mystics, ranees bedecked in silks and jewels; imagine the bustling squalor of its merchant cities, awash with all the colours of the sun, the air heavy with the tang of spice and humanity: sensual, carnal.
This is the land of the Tlöna as it exists today, in the seventh progress of the seventh epoch. Centred around the fertile delta of the Kyo Ma Kang (‘Life River’), the Episteme or Perfection of Tlön is an agricultural land secure in the bounty of its plantings and the maritime resources of its inland sea. The capital, Sinop, has grown to become the greatest city in the world, farwing jewel of a mighty people. Tlön’s subject peoples include the high mountain land of Nunshanttang, the secretive and fertile Anarchy of Narisha (a Heian Japan analogue) and the verdant though backward Ban-settler region of Ch’orokshanttang, the ‘Green Mountain Land’, whose clans are organised around male leaders.
As Tlön grew in wealth and power, so the perilous, wing-long trade route across the Shanaranyas became the axis of the world. It was called Na’ Mu Shur, the Knife-Lung Road. Those who travelled this perilous highway—traders, diplomats, spies, pilgrims, fortune seekers and exiles—traded in silks and jewels and scriptures and spices, and in ideas and hopes and futures and subversions as well.
Now imagine ancient Tibet, harsh and unrelenting, with its omnipresent cold and terrifying emptiness, its semi-nomadic yak herders, tantric adepts and llamas, tiny stone walled monastery towns, eternal peaks, demon-haunted high plains and hidden valleys. Consider the unwashed, rough-hewn vitality and humour of its people, devoted to full cultivation of the spirit and full living of the flesh.
The Kal’ttar are such. A semi-barbaric people of the Nunshanttang (‘Snow Mountain Land’), they first came into history’s view as caravan bandits, guards, guides, hostel keepers and petty traders, leaching upon the riches of the Knife Lung Road.
Over generations, these rude clans become a people, and, for a short time, an empire.
Tlön eventually discovered the Kal’ttar’s rich traditions of sacred learning, and their seeming-infinite varieties of esoteric practice. Then the Third Aja arose from amongst those snow-clouded peaks to unite the tribes and subdue the lowlands of the Tlöna. Briefly, the Kal’ttar found themselves rulers of an Empire.
Those days passed quickly. Nunshanttang now acts as the elder sister of the mountains, its la mahs and da kini adepts offering guidance and spiritual wisdom to the Perfection of Tlön, the temporal and worldly younger sister of the paddy plains.
Mountain Breaks Storm
Mountain Breaks Storm is the key event of recent far-wing history
As the rivalry between the Ban and Tlöna grew over time, many among the powerful on both sides sought to limit and contain their rivals. Direct war was never a possibility, but both empires spied and bribed and sought to incite rebellion, a ceaseless campaign of espionage that often involved the Kut.
In the year of the Jade Horse, the fifty-eighth byon of the second progress of the seventh epoch, a deadly, unnatural tai feng (typhoon) rose above the world spine to wreak havoc on farwing lands. It was the first of many over the following generations that wrought widespread destruction and terror upon the Tlön and Kal’ttar, bringing the Empire to its knees. These fearsome tempests were the outcome of Ban theagyn rituals directed to tal Tonaka the Typhoon Kut, The Mad Storm, the Blue Stone Mountain Woman. Entreaties to lure the goddess to a new home failed. Attempts at diplomacy through other Kut failed, for tal Tonaka was ancient, and solitary, and among the first in might.
With crops failing and entire regions despoiled by the typhoons, Tlön finally mounted a desperate counter theagyn ritual to contain the wild storms and compel the Typhoon Goddess to its will. Entire cities became ceremony sites. The countryside was depopulated save for those providing food. In the temple-cities millions gave of their power, their Gi, in season-long ceremonies spread across four wings.
It was the greatest rite in history, and the name whispered before the fiery altars was ‘Mountain Breaks Storm’.
At Wingtouch in the year of the Silver Eagle, the sixty fourth wing of the third progress of the seventh epoch, the accumulated Gi and Ki-ok of an empire was directed in a lance of power to the base of Buson and other sacred peaks. The ritual was designed to redirect the natural flow of Gi through the mountains, starving the Typhoon Goddess of the energies that fed her tempests.
But this greatest of rites did not have its intended effect. Perhaps the San Sin, the wild Kut of the mountain peaks, angry at the impiety, interfered. Perhaps the ritual disturbed vast, unsuspected reservoirs of Gi deep beneath the mountains. Perhaps the Ban had perfected a counter-ritual. Or perhaps the ritual simply failed ….
Whatever the reason, the results were catastrophic.
The mountains rose. The mountains fell. It is said that the Great Bird herself shrieked, a deafening and terrifying cry heard across the world. All along the Shanaranyas, the lands changed. Hwasan and chansan (volcanoes of heat and cold—the veins and arteries of the World-Bird) erupted violently, to terrible death and destruction. Earthquakes and landslides obliterated entire cities. The Knife Lung Road was shattered, and several small mountain kingdoms were lost to history. Many survivors among the Kal’ttar returned to nomad ways upon the High Empty (the high altitude desert of Noop’Pin) or fled to a miserable existence in the lowland cities of Tlöna.
Amidst the terrible desolation, almost all contact between near- and far- wings was severed.
The End of Knowing
It is now the byon of the Opal Bear, the twenty fifth wing of the seventh progress of the seventh epoch. Two hundred and forty wings have passed since the terrible events of Mountain Breaks Storm. Inspired by the genius and leadership of the Sixth Aja, the Perfection of Tlön has rebuilt much of its power and prosperity.
And the Great Bird wings on. Everything is change. The Sixth Aja’s secret and dying words to her closest disciples, the Three Word Blessing, violently divided them, and have created widespread religious division and civil strife.
Everyone knows that the end of all history is approaching with the end of the Seventh Epoch. The Sip augurers of the Do’Yeja humanity tradition—who draw upon the wisdom and power of ancestors and descendants—know that the number of descendants contactable in ritual is lessening, as is the power to be gained through them. The world is but forty four byon from Kasangsari, the Edge, and beyond it time is unknown and unknowable. There is much fear, and also much hope, in anticipation of the coming of the Seventh Aja. There is also religious ferment, with the rise of false messiahs, prophets and heroes, new teachings and new practices.
In Nunshanttang, the ancient power of the monasteries is under threat. Great efforts are being made to cross the Shanaranyas and relink the Empires of Tlöna and Ban, forging again the glory of the Knife Lung Road.
In Tlön, caste instability is increasing, and a protracted lawsuit against the guardian Kut of Sinop has paralysed the palace of the Rani. To crownward, new leaders and ideas have brought dramatic change to the city states of the Kita Kita Kut, the Plain of Ten Thousand Powers (whose analogues are the city–states of the ancient Middle East and Greece).
The mysterious Ss’arr or Ship Women of Kkae Juk Shem, the Tail Feather Islands, are small in number, but powerful in the arts of science, having built vessels that can brave the impossible stormtides of the Bibaram Pada, the limitless tailward ocean. Moving from their walled enclaves, The Ship Women are aggressively pursing trade and diplomacy across the three lands, to unknown purpose.
To tailward, the Ban are rumoured to have established an aggressive presence among the peoples of the Ssaumhae Pyon, the Wanton Shore. The Ban bring the threat of military violence to a land that has forgotten war.
And throughout the lands, the da kini ride with dreadful and holy purpose.